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Sneering references are made to a devalued nation attempting to rough-ride Europe, as was once done in their long-gone empire

It's early days yet as I write this.

David Cameron has just given his in-out of the EU referendum pledge in a speech that could be defined as a fudge of sabre rattling, attempted neutralisation of his opponents and an early cry for votes in 2017.

French newspapers on the internet – even all the regional ones – are running it as their lead story. Television and radio are doing the same. The professional pundits are slowly coming on line, on screen, on radio, to dissect his words.

But these days one doesn't have to wait long to get a feel of what "the people" think. They are poised, fingers on keyboards, to give their opinion in the comments section of all media.

The French are no different, apart from the fact that, overall, their use of grammar, syntax and spelling is infinitely superior to that now used by their equivalent in the UK.

So far – but as I say, early days – I haven't seen the words "perfidious Albion", but it won't be long. Jeanne d'Arc has yet to make an appearance but she'll be cited any hour now. (She always is, even though it was actually the French who ultimately condemned her to the bonfire, not the English.) At the moment it's "our ancient enemy", and many long-held prejudices are flung out, such as "arrogant", and "power-crazed".

The main thrust appears to be 'who do they think they are?' Sneering references are made to a devalued nation attempting to rough-ride Europe, as was once done in their long-gone empire.

Others point out, with glorious French pragmatism and cynicism, that America won't allow it and will whip "Little England" back into line.

Of course there are those who understand why many, as Cameron concedes, want to leave and return to – ah, no-one is quite sure to what.

In the UK it appears to have a base in some fantasy of the 1950s, where policemen tipped their helmets and said "evenin' all" and "on your way, naughty boy". Where rosy-cheeked children climbed trees and played conkers without fear of health and safety.

In France, few look back to a rose-tinted past but there are some who are now saying, UK first, then us, Hollande?

Then there are those, obviously the elderly, who point out that a united Europe was created out of a fervent wish that we would no longer wage war and destroy each other on common soil.

It has always amused me that often the most vociferous opponents of UK membership of the EU are certain British expats. Quaffing gallons of cheap wine in self-created Home Counties' bubbles in the heart of France; living what until relatively recently was an affordable life under a hot sun, they thunder forth on the "mess" Britain has become under the EU.

Mass immigration, multi-culturalism, destruction of "our way of life", "bloody stupid directions from Brussels", etc. The subtext, I'm afraid, from these immigrants, is always racist.

Meanwhile, from a distance – thanks to the EU – their pensions, cold weather allowances and other benefits accrued before leaving are paid in Euros at the best prevailing rate into their French bank account, or into their UK account if they're pretending for tax reasons they still live there – usually a family member's address.

The reason most are reluctant to return is that France has one of the finest health systems in the world. We immigrants are part of it because the 70% claimed on our carte vitale (health card) is recouped from the UK by the French. We have the "free" benefits of the NHS at what appears to be a far superior level of care. Of course that comes from our years of NI contributions, but is returned to us here only because of our membership.

We have easy access between European states, and unlike our non-Euro neighbours do not need residency or long-stay visas.

These involve hours of bureaucracy, hours of queue-standing and no guarantee of permission to live here.

Under the guise of European Union, expats can do like the French and work on "the black", not declaring all or any earned income. Equally illegal.

Until points need to be taken off following a motoring offence, we can use our DVLA-issued licence even though we no longer live at that address.

It will be interesting to see how our anti-European expats react should all this collapse in a few years' time.

When, potentially, health care becomes 100% ours to pay; when pensions and other allowances may be frozen at old rates and not payable in situ; when language skills form part of the permission to stay and passports are stamped and scrutinised on returning "home".

Will there be a mass exodus back, leaving unsellable houses for expensive rented accommodation in the UK? Will UK social services be overburdened by suddenly semi-destitute returnees?

Or will French citizenship forms be filled out in some last-ditch bid to hang onto the good life?

So far, few on the comments pages have referenced we UK immigrants.

Those that have can best be summed up in the words: Hah, now we'll see how much they love France.

cookfidelma@hotmail.com

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